India: the Biggest Arms Recipient

By Sajjad Shaukat 

In its report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) disclosed on March 20 this year that volume of international transfers of major weapons was 24 percent higher in the period 2007-11 compared to the 2002-06 period. While indicating the purchases of arms and weapons by various countries, the report pointed out, “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms…India’s imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11.”

It is of particular attention that under the pretext of military build up by China and Pakistan, India on March 16 this year, boosted military spending by 17 percent to $40 billion. In this regard, announcing the 2012-13 budget, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the parliament, the government is engaged in a massive programme to upgrade the country’s ageing military hardware, increasing defence spending to $40 billion for the financial year to March 31, 2013.

Now, India is the biggest importer of arms in the world. New Delhi’s military is acquiring a slew of new equipments from combat aircraft to submarines and artillery. It is currently finalising a deal with France’s Dassault Aviation to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets in a contract worth an estimated $12 billion.

Despite a series of political setbacks which exposed vulnerability of India’s beleaguered regime, it avoided bold reforms in its annual budget to shore up growth and modest targets to rein in a bloated deficit. The government reflects investors’ disappointment with Mukherjee’s half-hearted attack on the worst deficit among the emerging-markets.

However, on November 2 last year, the United States agreed to sell India the most expensive—the new F-35 fighter jets. In a report to the US Congress, the Pentagon said, “We believe US aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)…to be the best in the world”, referring to the radar-evading F-35 jet. The Pentagon indicated that the programme faces rising costs, with a price tag of nearly $150 million each. It also noted that India is working with Russia on developing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

Notably, on November 3, 2011, CNN TV channel pointed out, “The Pentagon is portraying India as a major customer for US military arsenal…India also decided a major purchase of US F-16 and F-18 fighters…is a reminder of the vast sums in play.”

James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly stated, “With a potential contract price of US$9 billion to US$14 billion, this is the single biggest competition in the global defence aviation industry.”

While the Pentagon’s government-to-government program of foreign military sales to India have included C-17 and C-130 aircraft, Northrop Grumman E-2D, the latest version of the E-2 Hawkeye, aircraft radar systems, Harpoon weapons and specialised tactical equipments. It will cost 232 million dollars.
Besides, America signed a deal of civil energy technology with India in 2008, which lifted sanctions on New Delhi in order to import nuclear technology.

In recent years, India has bought reconnaissance aircraft from US aerospace major Boeing of worth 2.1 billion-dollars, medium range missiles for 1.4 billion dollars from Israeli Aerospace Industries, and signed a contract with the Russian Aircraft Corporation to upgrade its MiG 29 squadrons for 965 million dollars. Several deals are planned for the near future including one of the largest arms contracts of recent times—a 11-billion-dollar project to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft.

As regards New Delhi’s purchases from Israel, India’s ‘The Tribune’ wrote, “Tel Aviv “agreed to share its expertise with India in various fields such as surveillance satellites and space exploration.” With the support of Israel, New Delhi has been acquiring an element of strategic depth by setting up logistical bases in the Indian Ocean for its navy.

Nevertheless, Indian defence expenditures have no bounds. In the past decade, India has spent billions of dollars on purchases of arms, planes, radars and ships from the US, Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel and France including other western countries.

Over the next 12 years, India is set to spend a whopping US$200 billion on defence acquisitions to replace its outdated inventory. In this respect, on February 15, 2010, a report of the Indian strategic defense magazine (India Strategic’s DefExpo) had pointed out that 70 per cent of the inventory of the Indian armed forces is 20-plus years old, and needs to be replaced with the modern technology. It explained that nearly half of this funding ($100b) will go to the Indian Air Force (IAF), which would need to replace more than half of its combat jet fleet as well as the entire transport aircraft and helicopter fleet. The army needs new guns, tanks, rocket launchers, multi-terrain vehicles, while the navy needs ships, aircraft carriers and new range of nuclear submarines.

It is noteworthy that from 1994 to 1997 India’s defence budget was increased from 20 percent to 24.4 percent. In 2009, New Delhi increased its defense budget by a whopping 28.2 percent or Rs 130,000.00 million. Some experts estimate that military spending will increase further, totaling as much as 200 billion dollars over the period to 2022.

While exposing India’s ambitious defence policy, Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has revealed in its report of April 2011, “India’s defence budget has roughly quadrupled (in real terms) since 2001—reaching $36.3 billion in the 2011–2012 budget—and enabled the implementation of long-term acquisition plans. Of the total defence budget, approximately 40 percent (some $14.5 billion) is allocated to the defence capital outlay budget.”

In fact, currently, more than half of India’s budget is allocated for armed forces, but its major portion is being expended on defence purchases and debt servicing, which leaves less than half for everything else including infrastructure development projects, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and various human services. New Delhi’s latest arms purchases will leave even less for what India needs most to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from abject poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.

Indian defence analyst Ravinder Pal Singh, while calling New Delhi’s unending defence spending at the cost of poverty-alleviation—with security requirements competing with socio-economic concerns for money calls it guns-versus-butter question.

In this context, a report of United Nations pointed out that India ranks 134th of 182 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. It estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s undernourished population lives in India. Nearly 31 per cent of the billion-plus Indians earn less than a dollar a day.

Secretary General of the Control Arms Foundation of India Binalakshmi Nepram remarks, “When people are dying of poverty and bad sanitation, what protection will arms provide them?”

Indian civil society organisations, while complaining of excessive defence spending on buying, indicated that the defence budget is rapidly increasing every year because of India’s unending defence imports.

While, the world is rapidly moving towards the idea of one world as in the cyber age, states prefer welfare of their people at the cost of undue defence expenditures. Europe which learnt a drastic lesson from the two world wars, presents an ideal model by integrating the continent through the European Union. On the other side, despite criticism from various circles, Indian government’s unlimited defence purchases are in full swing.

Ignoring regional problems and resolution of Indo-Pak issues-especially thorny dispute of Kashmir, Indian rulers claim that they do not have any aggressive designs. But it becomes a big joke of the 21st century, reminding a maxim, “armed to the teeth, but no enemy”, if we take cognisance of India’s unlimited defence imports, raising India as the biggest arms recipient of the world.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations


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